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CLAIMS from design experts that many of the blocks in new parts of the city are facing the wrong way are both surprising and concerning.

Canberra has a challenging climate, with very cold winters and very hot summers. But it is also blessed with large amounts of winter sunlight that, when harnessed properly, can be used effectively to heat buildings. Properly angled eaves and window placement can also dramatically reduce heat build-up in the warmer months.

When planning new estates, it is always going to be difficult to have the long side of every block facing north, or to avoid overshadowing that might reduce a property's ability to harness the winter sun. The denser those developments, the more challenging the task of energy efficiency becomes and several other factors need to be taken into account.

But with many of the newer suburbs of Canberra essentially being constructed on vast, flat, empty plains, it is disappointing to hear that hundreds of properties appear to have been oriented for convenience or to maximise the number of dwellings, rather than efficiency.

Despite rises in the cost of both electricity, gas and water, Canberrans are too often content to install cheap, inefficient electric or gas heaters as a default when building. There is little thought of their true cost until later when the bills start arriving.

Our suburbs also buzz with the sound of large, rooftop airconditioners every January and February.

The ACT government has spoken a lot about energy efficiency and has made some progress in areas such as protecting the solar access of residences to guarantee investments in solar power and passive design.

But the government needs to do more than just protect a property's right not to be overshadowed. It also needs to give builders and home buyers an opportunity to build efficiently. Correct orientation allows them to do that without significantly increasing the cost of construction.

State-of-the-environment reports have repeatedly painted Canberrans as some of the most wasteful Australians, without energy consumption in our homes a major factor. As the challenges of our environment increase, it seems clear that all of us - residents, builders and planners - need to be thinking more about efficiency and reducing our impact on the environment.

The technology is not complicated and the theory is well established. We already know how to do it - it's about time we started.